With funding from the beef checkoff, the industry has been tracking beef tenderness for 20 years with the first benchmarking survey conducted in 1990. In more recent surveys, foodservice cuts were added and a consumer sensory panel was substituted for previously used trained sensory panels because the consumer's perception of tenderness is the ultimate determinant of a cut's success.

“Beef quality, when you think about it, means a lot of things to a lot of people, but to a consumer, quality has everything to do with consistency, flavor, tenderness and overall taste,” says Molly McAdams, PhD and chair of the checkoff's Joint Product Enhancement Committee.

The 1999 survey revealed a 20 percent increase in tenderness as compared to 1990. The increased tenderness noted from 1990 to 1999, to a large extent, is attributable to the checkoff-funded science which has increased the industry's understanding of beef palatability.

Results of the 2005-06 survey showed an 18 percent overall increase in tenderness as compared to 1999. However, authors of the 2005-06 survey suggested that efforts still were needed to emphasize appropriate cooking methods for the variety of available retail cuts.

The 2010-11 survey was the fourth in the series to quantify the current status of tenderness compared to previous surveys. The final verdict? Most steaks evaluated in the 2010-11 survey were considered tender and similar to steaks evaluated in 2005-06. The least tender cuts continue to be from the round, suggesting the need for improved aging practices and increased consumer education focused on proper preparation and cooking to enhance consumer satisfaction.

“Information from the National Beef Tenderness Survey has been very important in setting priorities for additional research that needs to be conducted in product enhancement, to look at where there are gaps in information or lack of information in certain areas,” concludes Jeff Savell, PhD and professor of Animal Science at Texas A&M University.

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